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Chapter 2: Arrangements

“No, I’m not going to. In fact, I’m going to thank you for your offer.”

Those were the words that Ben’s father said to Nico.

“What?! Peter, you can’t possibly-!” interjected Ben’s mom in the background. She was stopped by her husband with a simple hand gesture.

“Ah… R-Really?” said Nico, surprised.

“You’re not exactly a stranger to us, considering our son has been telling us stories of your adventures in that game you’re playing. What’s it called, again?”

“Ah, it’s called Grimblaze.”

“Yes, that. What I would like to know from you now is your planned arrangement with my son. What do you plan to receive in exchange for his stay there? I know my son and he doesn’t quite like receiving something for nothing. I don’t, either.”

“Well…”

“And don’t tell me it’s companionship.”

It looked like Nico wasn’t going to be able to use the loneliness card. Not that it wasn’t true, though.

“Well, he can help around the house if anyone needs it. Also, we’ll be helping each other with schoolwork,” he said. “As for actual responsibilities, he would have to take care of his own stuff. Tuition will still be your expense.”

“Is that all right with you, son?”

“Yes,” answered Ben, unable to hide the happiness in his eyes.

“All right… That’s settled. Now, what about transportation? Would he have to go there to your place, meet halfway, or... will you come here to pick him up?”

“I’m planning to pick him up there,” said Nico. “I know you bought him a desktop computer, among other things. That can be a pain to move if you leave it to someone else. I know, ‘cause I have one too.”

“I see…” said Peter, deep in thought. At this point, considering how Nico’s been answering, he was fairly certain that his son would be in good hands. “Thank you in advance, then. When will the move be?”

“Let’s see… Around a week before classes? Would that be okay?”

“Is it, son?”

Ben nodded.

“All right. I trust that you will keep your word, then.”

“I certainly will. Thank you!”

“No, thank you.”

The call was ended, and everyone in the Pine family was silent for a while. That is, until Ben’s mom spoke up.

“I can’t believe you’re just giving our son away like that!”

“I am not giving away our son, Eva. I am entrusting our son to him,” said Peter. “Look, he practically gets to live rent-free and he’s also going to be with a friend. If anything, at least he’ll be able to enjoy his college days instead of worrying about trivial things such as money and having to deal with people you don’t really like.”

“Although, son…” he continued, turning his attention to Ben. “You would have to learn about that at some point in your life as well. Handling money and difficult people, I mean. Make sure you can support your friend, too, when he needs it, just like in that game of yours. You can’t have a lasting friendship if you can’t give along with taking.”

“Uh… Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome, son. Now, let’s get back to eating. I’m starving again!”

The whole family burst into laughter as they went back to their meal.

Soon, the day of the move came. Ben had all of his things packed and ready to go, and he and Nico had been messaging each other regarding the details and directions. So far, it had been smooth. It was a good thing, as Ben was feeling the excitement building up inside, and the last thing that he would want is a bout of anxiety.

He wondered how Nico would look like in person and how he and his parents would react to his arrival. He

“Son, are you feeling all right?” asked Peter.

“Ah, yeah… I was just wondering what would happen once he comes here,” Ben replied.

“Well, don’t worry about it,” said the father. “It’s pretty exciting, huh? Having a friend come over, I mean.”

“Yeah.”

Soon, Nico’s vehicle arrived in front of their house. Ben was somewhat expecting it to be a limo, but he was relieved to see that it was just a van. As soon as it was parked, the driver quickly came out and rushed to open the door where Nico was. However, the latter had already opened it.

“Young Master, I’m supposed to be-” said the driver in a panic.

“You don’t really need to, John,” said Nico. “I can take care of opening the door myself, okay?”

“N-Nico?!” said Ben, who at this point was showing his excitement.

“Ben, is that you? You’re taller than I thought!”

The tall young man ran to give him a tight hug. “Welcome!”

Nico was also pretty happy that he could see his online friend in person. However, he felt like he was going to pass out from the embrace. “Um, Ben, I think you should let go a bit…”

He was dropped to the ground in surprise. “Ah, sorry!”

“Ah, so this is Nico?” asked a voice behind Ben. It was Peter, Ben’s dad.

“Oh, yes. Glad to meet you, sir,” said the visitor as he picked himself up and shook the father’s hand. He then introduced his companion. “This here is my butler-slash-driver John.”

“Glad to meet you in person,” said Peter, who then introduced the members of his family. “Well, you’ve already met Benedict. Over there is my wife, Eva. I’ll leave you two to do your business for now.”

“Okay. We’ll let you know when we’re ready to leave.”

As Peter was going up the stairs to the porch, Eva went closer to him and whispered, “Dear, I can smell it… That man…”

He sighed. “...I know. Don’t stress your heart, love. I’ll take care of it.”

In his thoughts, he went, “Why did it have to be them…?”

Peter again went closer to Ben and Nico, who were already talking about bringing the things to the van, and said, “Excuse me, Nico. May we have a talk in private? I would need to discuss some last-minute arrangements.”

“Oh, really? Uh, okay, sure.”

“We’ll take care of things here, Young Master,” said the butler.

“Yeah, John and I will load these ourselves,” said Ben, already carrying some of his belongings to the van.

Peter and Nico went to the backyard to have their conversation. When they were far enough away from the others, the former checked the surroundings a bit, and then proceeded to initiate.

“I would like to have your solemn word that you won’t endanger our son or treat him as less than a fellow person, no matter what happens.”

Nico was confused by the cryptic way Peter was talking. “Um… Why would I even do that?”

“Please, swear it. It’s for our peace of mind, you see.”

Looking into Peter’s eyes, Nico knew that he was serious. Dead serious.

Because of this, he had to show that he was the same, even if he didn’t quite know why it was like this. “I swear it,” he said with conviction.

The father’s expression relaxed. “Good,” he said.

He also breathed a sigh of relief. “For a while there, I thought I would have to tear you apart limb from limb and leave you within an inch of your life.”

“Huh?” Nico uttered in shock. So much so that he even did a small double-take.

Peter slapped the friend’s back. “Ahaha, just kidding,” he said. For some reason, it didn’t really sound like a joke.

It sounded more like a threat.

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